The Truth About Blackbeard's Gruesome Death

The likes of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies and Robert Louis Stevenson's novel Treasure Island have given popular culture a view of pirates that's romanticized, to say the least. While they actually may have buried treasure in some instances, they didn't spend their days merrily sipping rum on desert islands. Pirating was a harsh, desperate vocation, and those who resorted to it were often forced to leave their morals and decency aside, along with any concept of personal hygiene.

The most notorious pirate of all time would have to be Blackbeard, a formidable foe who suffered a grim and protracted death in battle.

It's hard to find sources that agree, but there's some evidence he began his seafaring career as Edward Teach. Originally, he was believed to be a legitimate British privateer, though, according to Britannica, he seems to have taken up piracy after the War of Spanish Succession (which raged from 1701 until 1713). After terrorizing the colonies for several years, Blackbeard seems to have experienced a change of heart and attempted to reform. In May 1718, per History, he appealed to North Carolina Governor Charles Eden for a pardon. The authorities did not seem willing to let bygones be bygones. The pirate was still enough of a threat for Lieutenant Robert Maynard and his men to be sent to Blackbeard's base at Ocracoke Island to finish him. Permanently.

Six minutes of furious fighting

The battle took place on November 22, 1718, and was awfully gory from the onset. Maynard later reported (via History) that, as soon as the two opposing forces were in earshot of each other, Blackbeard "drank damnation to me and my men, whom he styled sniveling puppies, saying he would neither give nor take quarter."

Blackbeard launched waves of powerful cannon fire that killed one of Maynard's commanders and sent his forces into disarray. Only through Maynard's quick thinking was the day saved: He ordered his men below the decks, and when Blackbeard and his forces boarded what looked like scantly-defended vessels to scupper them, the pirates were ambushed from below decks by around a dozen men.

A furious six-minute skirmish ensued, according to Time, in which Maynard reported that his men were "miserably cut and mangled." None suffered more than Blackbeard himself, though: The dread pirate "fell with five shot in him and 20 dismal cuts in several parts of his body," according to Maynard (via History). Having won the day, Maynard decapitated Blackbeard's body, had it pitched into the ocean, and sailed back to Virginia with his head as a grisly prize.